Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Just in

USDA Announces Landmark Commitment to Improve Sage-Grouse Habitat

WASHINGTON-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a ground-breaking commitment
 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to accelerate and focus conservation efforts
 that will benefit ranchers and also the distinct population of greater sage-grouse population that
 lives in the Intermountain West. The population of sage-grouse is being considered for protection
 under the Endangered Species Act.

"With proactive conservation investments, we're helping farmers and ranchers who are
 improving habitat through voluntary efforts to stabilize this population of sage-grouse," said
 Vilsack. "Through action such as this, along with the support of our partners, we can
help secure this species' future and maintain our vibrant western economies."

USDA will provide up to $25.5 million of conservation investments over the next five to ten
 years as part of its contribution to delivering the federal, state and local 2012 Action Plan,
a conservation strategy that will benefit the sage-grouse population in both states. The plan,
sanctioned by the Department of the Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),
 aims to focus resources on cost effective and efficient solutions that could avert the need
to list the bi-state population as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered
Species Act.

Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also announced a $6.5 million commitment
over the next ten years to implement a wide range of priority conservation activities on the
public lands it manages to improve sage-grouse habitat. The BLM is coordinating with the
U.S. Forest Service to amend resource management plans that will include standards and
guidelines designed to conserve and enhance sage grouse habitat.

"We have made it a high priority to engage in voluntary partnership with ranchers, farmers
 and other landowners to conserve the wildlife and habitat that are so important to our
heritage and way of life," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "I applaud the NRCS,
USFS and the BLM for their very significant commitments, which will help provide
certainty that important conservation actions in key areas of the bird's habitat will continue
 to be implemented. Together, we can make our landscapes work for both agriculture and
 the bi-state sage-grouse."

The U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), both USDA
 agencies, are leading the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) and will have the means to fully carry
out conservation practices and policy changes agreed upon by the Bi-State Local Area
Working Group in its action plan.

The announcement comes at the conclusion of an extended public comment period on the
USFWS proposal to federally list the bi-state population of greater sage-grouse as a
threatened species. A final decision on the proposal is expected by April 28, 2015.

Since 2010, USDA has funded $27.5 million of conservation efforts, primarily through
working with farmers, ranchers and other land managers in on-the-ground projects that
 address critical threats identified in the action plan. Conservation easements on private
lands are keeping working ranches intact that provide important wetlands for growing
sage-grouse broods. Removal of conifers that have invaded sagebrush-steppe is restoring
 sage-grouse habitat on private and public lands.

The Bi-State Executive Oversight Committee estimates it will cost about $38 million more
to fully implement the remaining priority actions identified in the action plan for California
and Nevada. The U.S. Forest Service and NRCS will provide over 80 percent of that
estimated need under the new agreement with a focus on high impactful projects.

The Sage-Grouse Initiative teams up with partners in 11 western states to achieve wildlife
conservation through sustainable ranching. From 2010 to 2013, the initiative enrolled more
 than 950 ranches and conserved 6,000 square miles through NRCS investments of $247
million that generated $107 million in partners' matching funds for a total of $354 million
of on-the-ground sage grouse conservation.

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